Public Gets Spun Beyond Words

Sep 5, 2004

Tampa Tribune

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S SPIN: George W. Bush, The Media, And The Truth.

By Ben Fritz, Bryan Keefer and Brendan Nyhan. Touchstone. 352 pages. $14 (paper).

Reading “All the President’s Spin” feels like having stumbled onto the secret manual revealing how a famous magician performs his seemingly impossible tricks.

Only, this wizard isn’t coaxing a bunny out of a hat; he’s conning the public.

Now if you’re a Bush supporter, take it easy. Granted, this book is hardly a love letter to Dubya. But then, it’s no Kerry crush note either.

The book is not about whether Bush’s policies are sound; it’s about how he has sold them to the public. And its authors make a convincing case that Bush (and increasingly, Kerry) is but the latest and greatest user of PR and marketing black arts to mislead the public.

Common Lapdogs

Maybe more troubling, the book also reveals how the media have let the public down, behaving less like watchdogs of public officials than lapdogs.

Indeed, this book could have been called “How Politicians Are Using PR To Poison Democracy And How the Press Lets Them.”

The book’s trio of co-writers, founders of the nonpartisan bull detector Web site,, from which much of this book comes, succeed in exposing the Bush administration’s mastery of spin by doing, well, what the media should: They scrutinize what Bush and other administration officials say (and don’t) in selling a particular policy to the public, be it tax cuts or the war in Iraq, and then carefully compare this rhetoric with what the policies and the people behind them actually do.

What’s more, the authors explain in plain English just how a handful of major strategies for spinning the press and public used by Bush has been so effective. And, maybe most importantly, they show just how this administration exploits the inherent weaknesses of the media, most notably the phony objectivity of presenting “both sides” of a story while failing to sort out the truth from either.

Smelling Bull

The results are plenty disturbing. Especially because they reveal how much further Bush has gone in using PR techniques to deceive the public than even PR-savvy predecessors Reagan or Clinton.

Having been a newspaper reporter who now works as a public relations consultant, I’m all too aware how pervasive (and pernicious) spin can be. Yet in reading these chapters (some of which read like plot summaries for some would-be “flacks gone wild” TV show) I was amazed by how neatly I’d been duped, too.

That’s why this book’s real value isn’t just in debunking Bush’s deceptive sales tactics, but as a kind of citizen’s primer on detecting spin everywhere. Armed with the knowledge of how spin works, and the press often doesn’t, you’ll never watch or read the news the same way again.

And you, and our democracy, will be stronger for it.

Copyright (c) 2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.